1959: Guenther Podola

Add comment November 5th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1959, Guenther Podola became the last man hanged in Great Britain for killing a police officer.

A German emigre, Podola had been deported from Canada for committing a series of thefts and burglaries.

He’d just moved to London in May of 1959, not six months before his execution, when he tried to ransom stolen jewelry and furs to an American model he’d stolen them from. The model notified police and when they tracked him down, Podola shot Detective Sergeant Raymond Purdy straight through the heart.

Grasping for straws at his trial, he offered the soap opera-esque claim that he (now) labored under amnesia from a knock on the head suffered during his arrest. “I do not remember the crime for which I stand accused,” he told the court. “I am unable to answer the charges.” A Crown psychiatrist, the jury, and anyone’s common sense figured that he was shamming, which Podola himself also admitted after conviction.

Podola’s was the last British hanging of the 1950s. Five years and nineteen executions later, Britain binned capital punishment.

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1959: John Day Jr., Korean War casualty

Add comment September 23rd, 2020 Headsman

From Legal Executions in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma Including the Indian Territory: A Comprehensive History:

Day, John E., Jr.
September 23, 1959

On December 23, 1950, twenty-two-year-old John E. Day, Jr., a black private serving in Korea, made sexual advances toward the wife of Korean civilian Lee Hak Chum, sometimes given as Lee Mak Chun, in Seoul. Chum came to her defense but Day pulled a pistol and shot Chum to death. Day was immediately arrested, and in January 1951 he faced a general court-martial. Day was found guilty of murder and on October 1, 1951, he was sentence to hang at Fort Leavenworth, the first American to receive a death sentences during the Korean conflict. He was transported to the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth while the case was under review. The verdict and sentence were approved by the general staff and then the appeals process commenced. The case was considered numerous times but finally the U.S. Supreme Court, after eight years, approved the verdict and sentence, and the matter was forwarded to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The president carefully considered the matter before issuing an executive order to proceed with the execution and set the date for execution at September 23, 1959.

Just before midnight Commandant Colonel Weldon W. Cox appeared at the cell door and escorted Day into the power plant building and onto the gallows platform. The prisoner took his place on the trapdoor where Colonel Cox read the warrant for execution of sentence. When the reading concluded Day declined to speak to the witnesses, and, while the chaplain prayed for his soul, Colonel Cox retired and turned preparations over to three sergeants. While the chaplain continued praying the three sergeants bound the prisoner’s limbs with straps, adjusted the noose, and pulled the black cap over his head. At 12:02 a.m. the trap was sprung and Day dropped, breaking his neck in the fall. An Army physician was in attendance and he pronounced Day dead in fifteen minutes, and then the remains were lowered into the coffin provided. He was buried in the military portion of the cemetery later that day.

Sources: Daily Herald (Utah County, UT): September 23, 1959. Dallas Morning News (TX): September 25, 1959.

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1959: Col. Cornelio Rojas

Add comment January 7th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1959, in the city of Santa Clara lately captured by Cuban revolutionaries, Col. Cornelio Rojas Fernández, commander of the city’s defeated government garrison, was shot without trial by the order of Che Guevara.

It was just one among hundreds of vengeful executions being visited in those weeks upon authorities of the deposed Batista regime.

Viewers of the televised public shooting saw the stocky commander — the grandson of a hero of the 19th century Cuban War of Independence — walk unafraid to his death in an armed escort, where he exhorted his onlookers until the firing detail sent his fedora flying.

Rojas’s granddaughter Barbara Rangel remains an energetic advocate of her father’s innocence, from Florida. A kinsman named Pedro Rojas Mir was among those killed in the 1961 Bay of Pigs debacle when anti-Castro exiles mounted a failed invasion of Cuba.

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1959: Frank Wojculewicz, paraplegic electrocution

Add comment October 26th, 2019 Headsman


October 27, 1959 headline of the Palm Springs, Calif., Desert Sun.

Connecticut reluctantly electrocuted paraplegic murderer Frank Wojculewicz on this date in 1959.

A lifetime crook, Wojculewicz was surprised by two patrolmen in the course of robbing the AYO Meat Packing Company of New Britain, way back in 1951. In the gun battle that ensued, Wojculewicz shot dead Sgt. William Grabeck, as well as a bystander named William Otipka — but Wojculewicz was also struck in the spine by a police bullet.

That left the robber alive — and it left Connecticut a very uncomfortable case.

His guilt was in no question whatever and the death sentence for his two murder convictions was mandated by law. But the prospect of putting a permanently paralyzed man into the state’s electric chair was so aesthetically discomfiting that his legal odyssey dragged on for nearly 8 years at a time when the median death penalty case resulted in execution in 15 months. He had to be tried in a prison hospital bed.

As this retrospective from the New York Daily News observes, slow-walking Connecticut officials were likely hoping that the killer’s injuries would take his life “naturally” before it came to that. But the tough bastard kept hanging on, and not only that, but fighting for his own life both in the courts (where State v. Wojculewicz cases reached the Connecticut Supreme Court in both 1953 and 1956) and the court of public opinion. Wojculewicz passed his time “feeding pigeons through barred windows. He lobbied for life, arguing in letters to supporters that his paralysis was ‘a greater punishment than death’ and calling state execution ‘the evil of evils.'”

In the end, though, Wojculewicz was a fully competent, fully guilty criminal asking an exemption from the law based on an injury that he’d suffered in the course of committing the crime. Nobody really wanted to put an invalid in the electric chair but neither did anybody have a proper reason not to do so.

Time ran out for Frank Wojculewicz on the frosty night of October 26, 1959. Death row guards found him lying face-down as usual. They gently lifted the helpless man from his mattress and placed him in a wheelchair. Then began a slow procession. One by one the other condemned men called their farewells to Wojculewicz as he was wheeled past their cells. The scene was extremely affecting. When the procession entered the execution chamber it was greeted by the warden. He then asked Wojculewicz if he had a last request. Bitter to the end, the doomed man asked that the prison chaplain not be allowed near him. He said that he neither wanted nor needed any pious prepping for what he was about to face. The warden was displeased but he granted the request. Guards then wheeled Wojculewicz to the middle of the chamber. There they carefully lifted him from the wheelchair and put him in the electric chair. A wooden box was used as a stool to support his paralyzed legs. When the guards completed the task of affixing the electrodes and adjusting the straps they signaled that all was ready. Then the executioner turned on the current and Frank Wojculewicz was no more.

Legal Executions in New England: A Comprehensive Reference, 1623-1960

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1959: Joaquin Casillas Lumpuy, Batista regime soldier

Add comment January 2nd, 2019 Headsman

Joaquin Casillas Lumpuy, an officer of Cuba’s defeated Batista regime, died on this date in 1959 — either executed, or killed in a struggle trying to escape his executioners. (Both reports, amounting to the same thing, went abroad.)

Casillas most “distinguished” himself by carrying out the Batista dictatorship’s 1948 murder of trade unionist Jesus Menendez.* He served a token jail sentence for his trouble.**

Restored to his situation, Casillas was called upon to defend Fulgencio Batista once again in the last days of 1958 at the Battle of Santa Clara — what would prove to be the decisive battle clinching the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. The battle was won on New Year’s Day, and Casillas captured that day by revolutionary commander Che Guevara.

“The sources contradict each other concerning names and numbers,” writes Paco Ignacio Taibo in Guevara, Also Known as Che, “but there is no doubt that in the hours following the liberation of Santa Clara, Che signed death warrants for several of Batista’s policeman whom the people accused of being torturers and rapists … including Casillas Lumpuy.”

Quoting Che now, Taibo continues: “‘I did no more and no less than the situation demanded — i.e., the death sentence for those twelve murderers, because they had committed crimes against the people, not against us.'” They would scarcely be the last.

Meanwhile,

the crowds in Havana were exacting a long-delayed justice. A sort of reasoned and selective vandalism took hold of the crowds, who attacked the gas stations belonging to Shell, which was said to have collaborated with Batista by giving him tanks. They also destroyed the casinos belonging to the American Mafia and the Batista underworld, trashed parking meters — one of the regime’s scams — and attacked houses belonging to leading figures in the dictatorship.

* Casillas carried out the murder in a law enforcement guise: sent on some pretext to arrest Menendez, Casillas shot his man dead when Menendez flexed his parliamentary immunity and told the cop to pound sand.

** Casillas’s defense lawyer in the Menendez proceeding was Jose Miro Cardona, who briefly became Prime Minister of post-Batista Cuba but had a much longer career as a prominent anti-Castro exile. As chair of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, he was the potential head of state had the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion succeeded.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cuba,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Murder,No Formal Charge,Notable for their Victims,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1959: Jose Cipriano Rodriguez

Add comment January 17th, 2017 Headsman

UPI photographer Andrew Lopez won the Pulitzer Prize for his photographs of Jose Cipriano Rodriguez, a corporal of the deposed Batista dictatorship, going to his firing squad execution in the bloody first weeks of Cuba’s revolutionary conquest. Rodriguez had been found guilty of two murders by a snap tribunal that same day.

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1959: Harvey Glatman, signature killer

5 comments September 18th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1959, serial sex killer Harvey Glatman was gassed in San Quentin.

The dweeby, jug-eared TV repairman manifested an early kinky streak when his parents discovered the rope burns he’d given himself practicing autoerotic asphyxiation.

In time, he would do it without that important prefix.

Paroled from Sing Sing for teenage molestation convictions, Glatman moved west — to Denver, and then to Los Angeles, spending several years in monklike isolation from the opposite sex.

“Then,” writes Carlton Smith in a book about the BTK killer, “one sweltering afternoon in July 1957, the dam broke.”*

Glatman began trolling the City of Angels’ famous seedy underbelly for young women to model for “detective magazines” shoots — an understood euphemism for snapping illicit bondage pics. This excellent cover not only enabled him to have his victims willingly put themselves at his mercy in private, it enabled him to take their pictures as trophies.

They were images of Glatman’s detailed methodology of murder, which showed a sequence of terror by re-creating the entire psychological arc of the crime. He first photographed each victim with a look of innocence on her face as if she were truly enjoying a modeling session. The next series represented a sadist’s view of a sexually terrorized victim with the impending horror of a slow and painful death etched across her face. The final frame depicted the victim’s position that Glatman himself had arranged after he strangled her.

-Robert Keppel, Signature Killers



Photos Glatman took of two of his victims, models Judy Ann Dull (top) and Ruth Mercado (bottom). Images via Murderpedia’s collection, at least one of which is very distinctly NSFW. Murderpedia also has, as per usual, a detailed writeup of the Glatman case.

Glatman killed two women this way and a third via a lonely-hearts club meeting,** while losing a few targets along the way who were put off by his aspect or wily enough to demand a male escort for the photography sessions.

He was only stopped in 1958 when a police officer chanced to encounter him while attempting the more daring enterprise of roadside kidnapping. The perp was only 30 years old at the time, a frightening mixture of predatory calculation and homicidal lust: if not for this fortuitous early detection, it’s not too hard to imagine 1957-58 Glatman standing at the outset of a serial rape-murder spree of Bundyesque dimensions.

Unlike that later conniving, spotlight-hogging monster, Glatman post-arrest retreated quickly back to reclusion. He made only a token effort to deny his crimes; as soon as detectives tricked him (by pretending they had it already) into coming clean about a hidden toolbox full of incriminating evidence, the confessions started gushing out of him — another dam burst. He was begging detectives for death well before trial and willingly pled guilty to speed his own steps to San Quentin’s gas chamber. It took less than a year, time Glatman mostly spent in self-imposed isolation from the society of the inmates and guards around him in prison.

“It’s better this way,” he once said near the end, of his imminent date with those noxious fumes. “I knew this is the way it would be.”

Glatman’s LAPD interrogator, legendary detective Pierce Brooks, would later serve as a consultant for the made-for-TV Dragnet 1966 movie. In that film, the serial kidnapper, bondage-photographer, and murderer of young models, “Don Negler”, is conned by police into revealing the location of his incriminating toolbox — just like Glatman was.

The full film is available on YouTube; the interrogation sequence begins about 1:23:56. It clinches with the nebbishy “Negler’s” pathetic self-explanation.

Negler: The reason I killed those girls is they asked me to. (pause) They did; all of ’em.

Joe Friday: They asked you to.

Negler: Sure. They said they’d rather be dead than be with me.

* Glatman is also a suspect in a never-solved Colorado murder from 1954. So maybe that dam had a few leaks.

** The personal-ad gambit led the press to start nicknaming Glatman the “Lonely-Hearts Killer,” which appellation was of course already spoken for.

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1959: Leonard Shockley, the last juvenile executed?

Add comment April 10th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1959, Leonard Shockley was gassed in Maryland.

The appeals court that considered his case found it “perfectly clear that Leonard killed the victim in an attempt to perpetrate a robbery or a rape,” during a heist committed jointly with Leonard’s older brother.

On that basis, young Shockley achieved the distinction of being the second-last person ever put to death for a crime committed as a 16-year-old. For a very long while, it really looked like he might be the last, but Oklahoma’s 1999 execution of Sean Sellers usurped the claim.

While it makes little ethical difference, from the standpoint of attributing criminal culpability, whether a 16-year-old offender is executed promptly at age 16 or held for a lifetime in prison and executed in his eighties, Shockley may also be the last human put to death on American soil before he had attained his own majority. Shockley’s birthdate invariably reports as “1941 or 1942”,* and in the absence of the sort of primary research a blogger is naturally loath to conduct, we’re left with conflicting sources on the subject.

The Washington Post‘s headline the following day annonced, “Slayer, 18, Dies In Gas Chamber”. (Surmounting the text of the perfunctory Associated Press story it ran.)

Whereas the Baltimore Sun reported, “Youth, 17 Dies in Gas Chamber: Shockley Executed for Slaying of Shore Mother”. (Alas, no screenshot: it’s cited by Victor Streib, an anti-death penalty academic.)

So it’s not completely clear whether Shockley enjoys this particular claim to fame. Well, not enjoy it exactly. Of course not that. And poor Sarah Hearne didn’t enjoy being slashed to death; this is also understood. Let’s just say, a sad affair and a minor milestone, and leave it at that.

* The crime was in January 1958, 15 months before the execution. It’s simple enough to work out when Shockley’s birthday would have to fall for the various scenarios.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Gassed,Maryland,Milestones,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,USA

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1959: 71 after the Cuban Revolution

7 comments January 12th, 2010 Headsman

From the dark pre-dawn hours through to the middle of the day this date in 1959, Cuba’s fledgling revolutionary government shot over 70* “police officials, soldiers, and others described as spies and informers”** into a pit near Santiago de Cuba.

Enrique Despaigne is the gentleman shown being shot from 1:02 to 1:09 of this period newsreel.

Just days past their New Year’s triumph over the Batista dictatorship, the Sierra Maestra guerrillas were indulging a little out-with-the-old bloodletting. Well, more than a little.

Others had already been shot, and (many) others would follow that fate in the time to come, but this day’s mass execution was the largest and eventually most emblematic of those days. It was ordered by present-day Cuban President Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother.

The biographies of the day’s (nearly literal) hecatomb were largely eclipsed by their deaths as theater, as symbolism, as diplomacy. The man most individually distinctive to many observers was Lt. Enrique Despaigne, whose fusillade for killing 53 people was delayed three hours (pdf) at the camera crew’s behest for the better dawn lighting.

This day’s sentences specifically and the post-revolution executions generally were widely deplored abroad. Liberal Oregon Senator Wayne Morse called it a “bloodbath” on the Senate floor, and implored the Cubans to “withhold executions until emotions cool.”

Cuba rejected the criticism.

One could say that, like Lenin, Castro had taken warning from the Paris Commune‘s self-defeating example of excess leniency.

But the case for that interpretation looks much stronger in retrospect than it did to those living the actual events.† Foreign criticism for Cuba’s 1959 execution binge, though strong, was also strongly colored by an expectation that western powers would soon come to an arrangement with Castro — an anti-imperialist, but not yet a publicly committed Communist.

So the purge of Batista elements generally played as an ugly but fundamentally unworrisome effusion of popular vengeance an unsettled political situation.

As the London Times mildly editorialized, “youthful excesses” notwithstanding, “much of what is being said in Cuba can be put down to the exaltation of victory. When the provisional Government settles down, more realistic appraisals are likely.” (Jan. 13, 1959)

* 71 is the figure most generally reported, and the number given by the contemporary Associated Press reports, but slightly different numbers around that total are sometimes cited (the New York Times reported 75 on Jan. 13, 1959). Whatever their number, some of their names are given here and here; this Spanish-language forum page has victims of the revolution on this date and throughout the month, sourced to the stridently anti-Revolutionary Cuban American National Foundation.

** Quote from the A.P. report as published in the London Times Jan. 13, 1959.

† Castro defended the executions in terms of Nazis, not Communards. Many of those condemned either to death or imprisonment by the revolutionary government were (show) tried for war crimes.

And not without reason:

Santiagans say the series of decrees by former President Fulgencio Batista suspending constitutional guarantees and civil liberties covered a reign of terror in which 500 to 1,000 persons were murdered in Santiago alone. To Santiagans, the firing squads represent justice. (New York Times, Jan. 21, 1959)

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1959: Cho Pong-am, Presidential runner-up

Add comment July 31st, 2009 Headsman

A half-century ago today, South Korean strongman Syngman Rhee, winner of that country’s 1956 presidential election, had the runner-up hanged for treason.

Cho Pong-am (or Cho Bong-am), who cut his teeth as a young Communist in the 1920’s and 30’s but had become an independent socialist since, won over 2.1 million votes as the Progressive Party candidate in 1956, on a platform of peaceful reunification with North Korea — the outstanding political issue in South Korea at the time.

The position had some popularity as against Rhee’s “march North” policy of conquering North Korea by force. Peaceful unification and support for the Progressive Party continued to grow after 1956, to Rhee’s fury.

Probably in fear of the increase in popular sentiment favourable to ‘peaceful unification’, the Rhee regime was determined to destroy the Progressive Party. On 13 January 1958, Cho Pong-am was arrested, together with other party officials, on charges of espionage and violation of the National Security Act … Given the fact that the government had suspected Cho’s ideological orientation, and that Communist infiltration of the South was increasing at that time … the arrest of the progressive leader might have been caused partly by the government’s genuine fear of Communist subversion. Cho’s trial, however, clearly indicated that the main purpose of Rhee’s action was to suppress political opposition, and especially to control the idea of ‘peaceful unification’.

Cho Pong-am was indicted on charges that his advocacy of ‘peaceful unification’ by elections in North and South Korea denied the sovereignty of the ROK and consequently was subversive in nature, and that he had been in secret contact with North Korean agents. … police and prosecution officials admitted that the espionage case against Cho was ‘very weak’, and indicated that they were expending considerable effort on analysing his concept of ‘peaceful unification’ in order to classify it as a crime against the ROK.

… Seoul district court, in July, sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment … [and] found that the Progressive Party’s platform did not violate the National Security Law. Three months later, however, the appellate court, reversing the decision of the district court, sentenced Cho to death … [and] ruled that his unification formula represented a plan to overthrow the ROK government.

Cho was hanged just one day after the Supreme Court rejected his appeal — “sudden and highly questionable,” to the American embassy that hurriedly attempted to impress Rhee’s Foreign Minister with the damage this execution could do to South Korea internationally. Cognizant, perhaps, of such concerns, Seoul imposed press censorship from August 1 on further reporting about the case.

Rhee himself would be forced from office by popular outcry the following year after attempting to steal the 1960 election, but “the tragic end of Cho Pong-am and his Progressive Party made it unequivocally clear that a serious leftist movement could not be openly promoted in South Korea without falling victim to violent suppression by the Government.” (Source)

Update: He was posthumously rehabilitated in 2011.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Hanged,History,Korea,Politicians,Power,South Korea,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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